Essay VI. Personal Religion, by G. Vernon Smith, M.A., M.C., Rector of Hackney, Hon. Chaplain to the Bishop of London.
Among the many other things that many of us learned upon the Mission of Help must certainly be included the meaning and value of Mail Day. Perhaps one has to go to India, or far across the seas, to find out how much it is possible to long to be in touch with one's true home. How eagerly everyone waits for the arrival of the mail! Many of the missioners feel a similar eagerness now as Monday comes and brings with it two or three letters, which keep us in touch with some of the people we met in India. It is by the mail that we keep in touch, and for that reason you in India look out for your letters and papers from home. As life goes on we begin to find out how easy it is to get out of touch with friends, even if we have no desire or intention to do so. And when once we have lost touch we feel a bit strange when we meet again; we find it difficult to know what to talk about, and we seem to have but few common interests.
It always seems to be a pity to lose touch, and that, I think, is one of the reasons why we are writing this book. It is not that we want to preach any more sermons; there were enough of them upon the Mission. [111/112] We want to keep in touch with those whom we met all over India, Burmah, and Ceylon, and we think that perhaps this book may help to do that in some small way.
This chapter is to be on the subject of "Personal Religion," and its object, therefore, is to try to think how we are to keep in touch with God, so that in all the changes and chances of our mortal life, and wherever we may be, we may preserve His peace in our hearts and try to do His will.
For our personal religion (so it seems to me) depends upon the effort that we make to keep in touch with God. If this means that we should try to form some definite rules of life, there is no reason why these rules should be a burden or anything but a joy. They should be the links that bind us to God. We write home because we love to do so--not simply because we ought to--and a man makes a rule never to miss the mail and his letter home, because his letter is the expression of his love. His rule is not a burden, but becomes one of the happinesses of his life.
Many people came into closer touch with God through the Mission.
There are those in every part of India, Burmah, and Ceylon for whom the memory of the days of the Mission will never fade away. It was for them a new beginning, a fresh revelation of the truth of the Christian Faith, a drawing aside of a curtain, and a making clear of many things that had been but partially or dimly understood. Their eyes were opened to see the truth more plainly than ever before. Their ears were opened to hear a message which made their hearts burn within them. Out of the dryness (as some had thought it [112/113] to be) of religious observance there sprang a new life. Services, prayers, hymns became full of light and new meaning. In the midst of all the responsibilities and duties of life we heard the good news of the Christ, the Everlasting Son of the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, and King of Love.
And we found that His message had not lost its ancient power. Again, as of old in Galilee, He touched the lives of men and women, opened their eyes, healed their wounds, and gladdened their hearts. Not a few who had rather lost touch since the days of youth found out how ready He is to welcome us back when we are ready to return.
How are we to carry on? Already the Mission itself may seem to be a thing of the past, for many things have happened in the last few months. That may be. But the truths which were then proclaimed endure for ever. They are eternal. They never grow old. They are as fresh now as when you heard them a few months ago--although it is quite likely that they may have faded a little from our minds, so many are the thronging duties, pleasures, and activities which fill our lives, and threaten almost to crowd out the deeper thoughts which stir us in our hours of silence-This chapter upon personal religion is not to be simply an essay upon the nature and the number of the services that we ought to attend, or the length of the prayers that we ought to say, or the number of the verses of the Bible that we should read daily, or the kind of religious books that we should study. All that must depend upon many things which differ in every life. Some live far from any church in lonely places. Some are so busy that they have very little time for [113/114] prayer or reading. We could never find a rule of life which would suit us all. We must try to get to the root of the matter, and see how best we can keep in touch with our Lord, so that in all the perplexities of our lives we may have His wisdom to guide us, in all the difficulties His strength and courage. Then we shall each realise the truth of the promise to the disciples--"I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
We must first of all get rid of the fallacy that it is a selfish or unpractical thing to care for our spiritual life. There are always plenty of people who will tell us that religion simply consists of our daily actions. "My religion is to lead a straight life, and to do to my neighbour as I would that he should do unto me." English people especially want, as they say, a practical religion. Of course, there is something radically wrong about a personal religion which is not intensely practical, and which docs not show itself in a practical Christian life. Our Lord condemns, in the most severe terms, religious exercises which are barren and produce no fruit. A personal religion which consists of long prayers and spiritual exercises, but does not produce a Christian character, is entirely on wrong lines. But the man who wants a practical religion, as he calls it, is apt to forget that there is no true fruit borne anywhere without a hidden life behind which men do not see, but upon which in reality everything depends. A bunch of grapes is put upon the table, and we all take and enjoy the fruit which is the gift of the unselfish vine. Yet, as we eat the grapes we [114/115] hardly think of the life in the vine which has burst forth into the fruit. No grapes would be found upon a vine which had no life within the stem unseen to the eye of man. When a true Christian moves about amongst us, we admire the strong, brave, pure, unselfish life. We thank God for the wonderful fruits of the Spirit which the life shows--love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance. But we do not often stop to think of that inner life which lies behind, but which is the very source of all that we see and admire and long to copy. "He that abideth in Me, and I in him," the Master said, "the same beareth much fruit, for apart from Me ye can do nothing."
This fact, that there is always an external life which the world sees and an inner life which lies behind, is one that meets us every day on every side. We go, for instance, to a cricket match and watch a master of the art of batting make a century. We see eye, hand, and brain work together with perfect ease and freedom. It all looks so simple and natural, that we wonder at our own poor efforts. But sometimes we forget the long and patient hours that have been spent at the nets, out of sight of the crowd. Yet it was there in the early days of practice that the victory over the bowler was really won. Or we applaud the skilful pianist and violinist, and marvel at the free and easy way in which the nimble fingers fly up and down the instrument with never a mistake. But we forget the hours and hours which have been spent at scales and exercises before any degree of perfection was attained. But that hidden life was out of sight, and without it we should never have listened to the music which inspired and thrilled [115/116] our hearts. For that matter we do not want to listen to the scales any more than we want to hear a man always talking about his prayers and his spiritual life. We want to see the result. We like to hear a good pianist, and we like to see a good Christian life. But we have not thought things out very carefully if we think that there is no inner life of prayer and effort behind that life which seems so full of grace and power. The truth of the matter is that the Christian life is not only a life of Christian activity in the world, but also a life, as St. Paul says, which is "hid with Christ in God." The true Christian life in the world is not something that we can live merely by trying hard enough. Many of us think that we have only got to try really earnestly, and that would be quite sufficient. Christian graces only spring out of an unseen life in which the soul keeps in touch with God. There is all the difference in the world between a tree upon which artificial fruits are hung, and one which from the life within it produces a natural fruit. And there is all the difference in the world between a prig and a Christian. The one hangs artificial fruit upon his life (and it does not attract us). The other tries to forget self, and live in touch with God, and let God bring forth fruit in his life.
The truth as to the relation of the inward to the outward life becomes very clear as we read the lives of the great Christians. Take, for instance, the greatest of all, St. Paul. When we are young the life of St. Paul appeals to us by its tremendous heroism. Here was an intensely practical, courageous, adventurous life. Here was a man who toiled and struggled and served his fellow-men to the very end. All the world can see [116/117] that gallant life and pay homage to it. But, as life goes on and we turn from the book of the Acts and read the Epistles, more and more we become increasingly conscious of the secret of that wonderful life. We watch, as he opens his heart in his letters to his friends and converts, the great inner struggle of the man who died daily to sin, who beat and buffeted his body lest he should fall away, who was in constant touch with God in prayer. He was a hard-working Christian: "I laboured more abundantly than they all," he says; but there was another side to it, "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
We see this truth at its highest in the life of our Lord Himself. We love to think of Him in those words in the Acts of the Apostles which bring to the mind's eye the picture of His active life. "He went about doing good." As the great Healer of men's souls and bodies, as the Friend of all men and women, as the Teacher who spake as never man spake, we watch Him in the villages and fields, by the lake and in the crowded cities. But there is another side to His life which the careful reader of the Gospel narratives notices. However busy the days might be, there is the quiet morning hour apart from even His disciples. There are the long lonely nights upon the hills, and there is the great struggle in the wilderness before the ministry began.
There is a life of constant communion with the Father about which the mass of the people know nothing. That band of disciples who longed to help Him in His work, and who were beginning to try to follow in His steps, showed that they had caught the real secret of His life when they said (knowing the [117/118] poverty of their own spirits): "Lord, teach us to pray "; and when they cried to Him: "Increase our faith."
It is, therefore, no selfish course to try to learn how we may keep our inner life, the source of all our true activity, strong and pure and close to God. The spring is soon dried up that does not draw fresh supplies of water from the everlasting hills. Even the effect of a Mission will wear off if we do not replenish day by day the fire of Divine love which then was kindled in our hearts. We often hear the words: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven"--the call to a life of practical Christian works. But a lamp will soon give out if there is no hidden store of oil. It is only as we care for the whole of life that we can ever become our best, and, therefore, the really selfish man is he who neglects his personal religion and fails in consequence to give of the best that he might be to the world.
Life has many strains put upon it, and in India there are special difficulties of which we who travelled through the land so quickly as missioners have but little understanding. But we saw enough to realise how hard must be those constant partings which call for and are met by such constant courage. There is all that uncertainty about the future, increased to a real anxiety in these difficult days. There are those tragedies which happen so swiftly. There is the climate, so that those who only know what the so-called cold weather is like can begin to guess what it must be to bear "the burden and heat of the day." There is the loneliness, and the indefinable non-Christian "atmosphere." Our religion is to help us to [118/119] be our best in the midst of all our duties and difficulties. God expects that we should try to be our best--not only to do our best. "For their sakes I sanctify Myself," was a motto of our Lord's life. Be it reverently said, it was altogether unselfish that He gave Himself to prayer; for thus that wonderful life was made so strong that He endured the Cross.
The light of the inner consecration has fallen over every life where there is quiet sanctification for the sake of others. Many a man or woman has tried to be his or her best for the sake of another. There are real big and worthy reasons which lead men to deny themselves. There may be no harm at all in bridge and a short drink . . . but there are limits, and a man sets those limits when he sees a younger and perhaps weaker life beginning to drift with the stream. We can never estimate how important it is that we should be our best. Great as are the problems of Indian life to-day, and great as are the opportunities, much must always depend upon the lives and characters of the ordinary men and women. We may have a great vision of the place which the Empire should fill in the purpose of God, and in the history of mankind. We may gain an increasing realisation of the mission of the Church to proclaim the Truth throughout the world. Yet it does not depend only upon Governments to make that vision a reality and not a dream, or upon bishops and clergy primarily to make that mission of the Church effective. It really depends upon us all, upon "what manner of persons we are."
In the war, great and splendid as was the strategy of the Allied armies in that last year of victory, the success really depended upon the officers and men [119/120] who carried out the plans. The morale of the troops counted for more than anything else. So it has been in the past in India.
To have travelled throughout India on the Mission of Help is to have come to understand plainly what one had always believed, that, however great may have been our statesmen, and however wise our Parliaments or Councils in the past, it was due to the personal lives and scrupulous integrity and honour of generations of men and women who gave their lives for India that, as the Archbishop of York said in his speech of welcome to the missioners on their return, "the great Indian peace was secured."
The promise of the Gospel is nothing less than that our spirits may be so in touch with God that they need never grow old or die. "Though our outward man is decaying," St. Paul says, "yet our inward man is renewed day by day." It is obvious that everything that can be measured by time grows old. As the years pass and the ranks of our friends thin out, as the body begins to grow less active and grey hairs come and wrinkles begin to show upon the face, we come to feel that all things come to an end. Death, "the shadow feared of man," waits for us all. And so it comes that about middle life, unless we have some true faith and some strong life within, we begin to grow weary, and often cynical. Then comes to us our Lord's message: "I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly"; and St. Paul's triumphant proclamation that the spirit which lives in this ever-ageing body may remain eternally young. For that which is [120/121] daily made new can never become old. The spirit that is in touch with God can never grow old. For God does not grow old. He is outside time and ever the same. He is eternal, and we are promised a life within our hearts springing from the mystical union of the soul with God which is called eternal life. "This is life eternal," our Lord says, "that they should know Thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." Our religion, therefore, is not simply a moral code which will tell us what we ought to do (how we dislike that kind of religion which poses as a policeman!), but the promise of a life within which will spring up and carry us through all the days of our earthly life, and at the last bring us in triumph through the gate of death to life eternal.
The union of the Christian soul with God is such that nothing but wilful sin can break it. "I am persuaded," says St. Paul, "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." The man, therefore, who is in touch with God has no longer only his own limited resources to rely upon. He can draw upon the inexhaustible riches of the treasury of God. For man is finite--the word means limited--and everything he possesses soon comes to an end. But God is infinite--boundless, unlimited in His Being. And the realisation of this makes all the difference as we live our lives. Think how limited our wisdom is. The wisest man is most aware of his limitations. Only the very young or ignorant think they are infallible. When the problems and [121/122] perplexities of life come upon us, we are soon puzzled what to do. But the wisdom of God is boundless, and when we pray that we may have a right judgment in all things, we have the promise of our Lord that "the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth." Again, how limited is our strength. It is not merely that we are soon tired out physically. We find ourselves falling again and again before the same temptation, and at times discouraged by the slow progress that we make in the struggle. But we are in touch with Him Who said: "All power is given unto Me," and we need have no fears that in His strength we shall not conquer. Again, our love is very limited when we lay it alongside the boundless love of God. St. Peter was a very human man, and it was a very human question when he asked, "How often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him; until seven times?"
It was the very natural desire to know when he might give up trying to help a difficult and troublesome person. The answer of Infinite Love, "I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven," revealed that the love of God never ceases, and it is with that kind of love that we are in touch. So, too, with our courage. We may be brave enough physically, but how often our moral courage oozes right away on the first occasion that we have to face a laugh. Yet we may be in touch with Him Whose courage was boundless and unlimited, Who endured all things and was faithful even unto death. Our personal religion means, therefore, that we can be in touch with our Lord Who overcame death and conquered sin, and that we, through Him, may be enabled to share His victory. No wonder, therefore, that through all the ages men have turned to the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, with the words of the ancient hymn upon their lips: "Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire." As the country looks smiling and fresh after the storm and ever new, so he whose life is hid with Christ in God emerges as life goes on from all its cares and sorrows and struggles more calm, more trustful, more serene. For he meets them in a strength that is not his own, and so is not embittered by them. Day by day the jaded human soul receives fresh life as it waits upon God. The future is calmly faced:
Grow old along with me.
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made.
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God; see all nor be afraid."
Nevertheless, the truth of this can only be proved by personal experience. We must ourselves set out upon the road in faith if we are to find the way. The sorrowful thing is that so many of us miss so much of the joy of life because we do not take our opportunities. A man may travel in a railway train and never once look out at the view, although he may be passing through lovely country. The glory of the mountains, the rivers, and the trees may be all round him, and yet he has eyes and sees not. It all, so to speak, passes him by--or he passes it by unheeding. But it is not unreal because he does not see it, though it may be unreal to him. It is outside him until he opens his eyes and looks upon it, and then by that very act he makes it his own. The view becomes part of his experience. That which is outside him no longer remains outside [123/124] him. It is brought within. Similarly the air may be filled with messages that are flashed through it--broadcasted in every direction. But they are nothing to me unless I tune my instrument and open my ears so that the messages come within my life.
The eye is very small, and yet it can by a very small motion open and take in a very great deal. So too, the ear, tiny as it is, can yet without difficulty receive the crash of the thunder or the whisper of a human voice.
We believe that God is everywhere present. He waits for us, and we only need a very little faith that we may accomplish that great and wonderful thing of bringing the soul into touch with Him. "If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed," our Lord said. He is ready for us, "more ready," as the old prayer says, "to hear than we to pray." But we must in faith try to keep in touch with Him.
What, then, are we to do if we are to keep closely in touch with God? What kind of rule of life must we make? First of all, without any doubt, we must try to pray. It is not easy to pray, and we have to learn. After all, we are but disciples, and the very word means learners. We need not worry, therefore, because our prayers are but poor ones. This chapter is much too short to make it possible to deal at any length with the great subject of prayer. The very fact that we want to be in touch with God, and to strengthen and deepen the life of the spirit, creates in us a prayerful attitude. It will probably be most helpful to think [124/125] more about our actual prayers, both private and public, and how we may improve them in a few simple ways. Many of us, when we come to examine the prayer that we actually say, find that it is very easy to get into a groove and to repeat the same prayers, often those we have learned as children, with hardly any variety. Often, too, we become so familiar with the regular services of the Church that we may forget the great beauty of them. We can learn a great deal to help us from St. Paul's expression, "making melody in your heart unto the Lord." Music has much to teach us with regard to prayer. A melody is something that is quite simple, and at the same time beautiful. In fact, as a rule, the simpler the melody the more beautiful it is. It is played upon a very few notes, and yet the same notes are the structure out of which every melody is made. Few though the notes are, there is an infinite variety in the different melodies. In fact, there is no limit to the variations of melodies which may come from the notes of the octave.
A melody is made up of an arrangement of the different notes with suitable pauses and short rests. Everyone knows the difference between a melody and the continual playing of the same note over and over again. The song of the nightingale and that of the brain-fever bird are very different! Consider this thought with regard to prayer, and let us test our own prayers by the standard that it suggests.
In prayer the soul of man reaches out towards God, and as there are multitudes of men, all of whom are different, so there are no two hearts whose desires or needs are identical. There are times when the soul desires to dwell upon the low and soft note of penitence. [125/126] Again, there are days when it longs to burst into the highest notes of praise. There are just a few different notes which are the structure upon which all true prayers are built. Blended together they make that melody in the heart of which St. Paul speaks. There are many who think that prayer is primarily asking God for things that we need. Of course, petition is one of the notes which should be found in every prayer, but the prayer that simply consists of requests, is like a perpetual repetition of the same note--give, give, give. Again, we must not strike the note of wretchedness too much or too repeatedly. It is true that blended into every prayer will be the note of sorrow for sin, and we shall ask God to forgive our many failures. But it is only monotony, not melody, to play upon the one note--have mercy, have mercy, have mercy--without any variety at all. Into our prayers we must try to bring the note of praise and thanksgiving, and intercession for others, as well as those of penitence and petition. And there must be that pause of silence while we wait upon God and try to realise His presence and to Whom we pray. Test your prayers by this rule. Were they a melody last night and this morning in which each note had a place, or were they simply the repetition of the same note over and over again? We frame our prayers upon the principles of the Lord's Prayer; "After this manner pray ye," our Lord said as He taught His disciples the prayer. As we think over the meaning of its words, we find within it the great notes of praise and thanksgiving, "Hallowed be Thy Name. Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory." There is the note of penitence, "Forgive us our trespasses," and of petition, "Give us this day [126/127] our daily bread," while the whole is a great act of intercession, for everyone who uses the prayer places himself with all the great family of God as he says "Our Father."
It is the glory of our Prayer-Book services that they are so drawn up that they teach us how to produce this melody in public prayer. The service of Holy Communion is a Eucharist in which praise and thanksgiving reach their height in the Gloria in Excelsis. It is a service, too, in which, remembering the great sacrifice upon the Cross, we humbly confess and ask pardon for our sins. And as we bring our own deep needs before God, we unite ourselves in a great act of intercession for the whole state of Christ's Church militant here upon earth. And our prayers and worship are lifted up with all the company of heaven.
So, too, in the familiar services of Morning and Evening Prayer. There is the low note of the general Confession upon which we begin, a note which swells up to the high note of praise and thanksgiving in the Te Deum. There are all the Collects with their petitions for our many needs, and there is the Litany with its all-embracing intercessions. Sometimes we wish there were greater freedom in our worship, and greater elasticity in our services. No doubt there is room and need for many additions to our Prayer-Book. But there is always the danger that when services are prepared by individual ministers of religion, they will be drawn up in accordance with the particular mood in which the man happens to be. Some of the notes may be left out and the melody spoilt. There is a perfection about the great services of the Church which have been the expression of the people's worship for [127/128] generations, and this comes from the blending of all the notes of prayer.
It is often said, "I can say my prayers equally well at home, and I see no reason why I should go to church." But there is just that difference between private and public prayer that there is between playing a solo on an instrument and taking a part in the orchestra. There is a wonderful beauty about a well-played solo. But there is also a richness and grandeur when many instruments combine together. The truth is that both are needed. While the soul must pray alone to the Father Who seeth in secret, it must also take its part in the great choir which joins in giving united worship to God. "Do not," therefore, "forsake the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is."
Our rule of life will not stop short at prayer. We shall certainly try to keep in touch with our Lord by careful reading of the Bible, especially of the Gospels. It is recorded there that "they watched Him," and if we are to learn more about our Lord--how He acts, what He says and does--we also must watch Him as we follow in thought again and again the steps of His most holy life from Bethlehem to Calvary and the Mount of the Ascension. We are told that the Blessed Virgin Mary "pondered "--that is to say, "weighed up all that He said," and we must do the same. The word "meditation," a word so thoroughly understood by the Eastern, rather frightens many English people. Yet it means, in reality, carefully pondering over the great truths and the words of Holy Scripture after asking for light to show us their true meaning. "Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word which [128/129] proceedeth out of the mouth of God." When we walk through one of the great picture-galleries of Europe we can see at a glance that there is all the difference between the casual visitor who hurries through casting a rapid glance around him, and the man who silently stands for many minutes before a great masterpiece, so that its meaning may sink into his mind. And there are always some real students who study every detail. So there is all the difference between the knowledge of the Gospels that is gained from hearing every now and then a passage read in church, and from a quiet, reverent daily reading and thinking about a few verses. We have great need of meditation.
Of all the opportunities which we have of keeping in touch with God, the sacrament of Holy Communion, which our Lord Himself instituted, is the greatest. Experience alone can prove the truth of this. "This is the only service that I seem to want to come to," is the verdict of many as life goes on. There is no doubt that from the earliest date this service was not only the central feature of the worship of the whole Church, but also the mainstay of every individual Christian's life. "They continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread," is said of the first Christians. Our Lord, when He said "Drink ye all of this ... do this in remembrance of Me," not only gave a command to every disciple, but drew together the whole body in a great act which marked their fellowship with Him and one another. "We all partake of the one bread." Yet there are many who do not come to the Holy Communion, often because they think they are not good enough to do so. Sometimes the words in the [129/130] long exhortation in the Prayer-Book frighten us away. If our conscience is uneasy and our soul troubled, so that we feel we have really "lost touch" and cannot find the way back, we can open our grief to God in the presence of a priest, and "by the ministry of God's holy word receive the benefit of absolution," so that the conscience is at rest, and doubts and fears removed. Many found the peace of God in this way in the Mission. We must remember that the Holy Communion is a "means of grace." It is not a reward for us when we have conquered in the fight, so that we are to stay away until the day when temptations will have ceased. That day will never come in this world. It is the food by means of which the weak and sinful children of men are given grace to persevere. Here, too, with "Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven," we are lifted up above the things of earth, and have our part in the worship of the Lamb that was slain. Many of us--it would be best to say all of us--know that there are depths of meaning in this service which we shall never fathom. But we obey our Lord's command in faith with something of the spirit of Queen Elizabeth, who wrote these words expressing her own belief:
His was the Word that spake it;
He took the bread, and brake it;
And what that Word did make it,
I do believe and take it.
And here we shall find peace and rest for our souls.
We have most of us found out already that it needs much perseverance to hold faithfully to our prayers, our Bible reading, and our Communions. The old prophet who said, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" knew what he was talking about. Unless they have common interests they separate. And we, too, find that the more we keep close to God the more stern becomes the battle against sin. The things that come between us and God must go ... or else we shall find we are giving up our prayers. This is what it means to take up the Cross in daily life. We are following Another, and we want to do His will. Without any doubt at all we shall come to the cross-roads--that is to say, the place where duty and inclination run in opposite directions. Our will cuts across the will of God for us, and we have to decide which way we go. To persevere in the right way is to bear the Cross, and choose the braver part--to carry on when things are hard. Our Lord endured, He carried on, and by His victory He opened up a way for us. "When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers."
In the bearing of the Cross, in sacrifice, we begin to find our deepest happiness. This is not so hard to understand as it may sound. In the war many found the truth of it.
The true player wants a hard game, and not a walk over, and his is a poor spirit that only requires a soft job. An effort which draws out all our powers is the one that is worth making. So the big gallant fight of bearing the Cross, and battling on for God and sticking [131/132] close to the Leader, is the real deep joy of life. It is supremely worth doing. It is the way in which, in some small measure, we may help to build the Kingdom.
As we bear the Cross we shall learn the power of the Resurrection. For this is all the difference. "Jesus went out bearing the Cross for Himself." We bear the Cross in the strength of the Risen Lord. If we take His yoke upon us we are linked with Him, and the burden is carried by Him.
As we try to bear the Cross ourselves we shall begin to sympathise more fully with others. In all their struggles, endurances, and sorrows we shall be able to place ourselves alongside of them and to help them. Thus as we share the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ we learn the fellowship of the Church.
It is hard really to understand anything we have not tried to do. It is the good musician, who knows the difficulties, who will be the kind critic of your poor efforts, not the person who cannot play a note, I well remember, after I had been playing numbers of tunes, a working man who asked me, "How long would it take me to do that, 'bout a half-hour?" So, too, it is the man who is trying who will be able to sympathise with others. He has found out how hard it is to succeed. The world turns round and rends the Christian for the tiniest slip he makes--and flings in his face that he goes to church and is no better than any one else. But the world is not trying, and does not know the hardness of the battle. It is always necessary to try to do a man's job before your condemnation of him is worth listening to. That, no doubt, is why "He is able to save to the uttermost," because "He [132/133] was in all points tempted like as we are, but without sin." He became man, and therefore can save man.
So we shall find ever that our power of helping others will have increased the more we have allowed God to help us. There is often a real truth in some of the old mythology. The giant Antaeus gained all his strength from Mother Earth. Every time his feet touched the earth his strength increased. But let him once be lifted up and cut off from the earth, and his strength slowly ebbed away. The more a man keeps near to God the greater grows his strength, and hence his usefulness. But if he drifts away he soon grows weak, and the great enemy of man finds him an easy victim.
We have thought, then, about the inner life, in order that we may be able to play our part better in the world. For the Church of God, to which we belong, exists to build the Kingdom. As we look around there is much to make us think that there never existed a greater need for men and women of goodwill than the need which exists to-day. We may pray and humbly hope that we may be allowed to have some part in the work of that great company of men and women who, in every age, have tried to serve the world by serving God.
As we each help to do our best in the place where we are set to serve, we shall do something to bring closer the day when "the kingdoms of this world will have become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ." We who remain in England cannot but feel that in India you have a splendid part to play. In the great vision of the Heavenly City, as the Seer gazed upon its streets and beheld there the peoples of the [133/134] world, in great prophetic words he said: "They shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it."
To Christian people, wherever they may be, the words of our Lord come back again and again, as at once an inspiration and a challenge: "Ye are the light of the world. ... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."